Conner took a deep breath, then finished the sentence she’d begun. “I thought I could love,” he said flatly, “like anyone else. All right, so that was a mistake.” He started walking again, and she had to hurry a few steps to catch up with him. “But even while we were married, I still didn’t get it.”
From the bitterness in his voice, she suspected his guilt had extended from the death of his son clear into the end of his marriage. One thing at a time, Lucy decided, and divorce was probably easier to talk about.
“A lot of people,” she reminded him, shifting Emma to her other shoulder, “don’t stay in love with the same person their whole life.”
“Yeah, but they knew how to love ’em, make ’em feel wanted, in the first place. Whereas here I am—” He raised his hands, palms up, as if any observer in the park could tell what was wrong with him simply by glancing his way. “It was bad enough doing that to Margie, but at least when she married me, she had a choice. Bryan didn’t have any choice!”
His voice cracked, and she interrupted with the only reassurance she could think of. “Conner, nobody gets to choose their parents.” And in any case, he must have been a wonderful father…a man like him would make a point of caring for Bryan at every opportunity. “Besides, I’ll never believe you didn’t love your son.”
He slowed his pace and looked at her, as if seeing her for the first time since she’d left the catering station. “You couldn’t believe it,” he said slowly. “You’re not that kind of person.”
It hurt, watching him in such pain, and she had to swallow over the tightness in her throat before moving in front of Conner to address him face to face. “I’m the kind of person,” she told him, “who sees you bringing home balloons for Emma.”
Glancing down at the sleeping baby, he shook his head. “That’s not the same thing.”
“It’s close enough for me,” Lucy protested, but she could tell he wasn’t truly hearing her. “Con, will you listen for a minute?” Maybe the only way to make him pay attention was to stop this mindless pacing…so she gently nestled Emma on her blanket beneath a tree and rose to face him again.
“There isn’t—” he began, and she cut him off by bracing her hands against his shoulders.
“Stop,” Lucy said. “I mean it. You’ve got to quit beating yourself up.”
He drew a ragged breath, and she was suddenly aware of the warmth of his body, the hard surface of his chest so close to her. But this wasn’t the time to draw back—not now that he was finally listening.
“I mean it,” she repeated. “Conner, you’re a good person. You are.”
For a moment it felt as if the noise of the park had abruptly halted, as if the sunlight had become more intense, as if everything hung suspended in time…but then he let out a shaky breath and drew her closer to him.
And the world swiftly tilted into a new and more challenging rhythm as she felt the warmth of his body against hers.
Comfort, that’s all this was, Lucy told herself wildly. She was just comforting a friend. But already this felt like something more than reassurance, something far more than friendship. And all of a sudden it didn’t matter, anyway….
Right now, nothing mattered except Conner.
She wrapped her arms around him, glorying in the feel of his broad shoulders, the crisp sensation of his collared shirt, the tantalizing play of muscles in his back. Oh, and the pleasure of his hands on her shoulders, the joyous strength of his solid embrace, the surprising satisfaction of his touch—
It shouldn’t feel this good.
This was simple comfort, she reminded herself, nothing more. Yet somehow that was hard to remember, with her body exulting and her heart practically shouting and every fiber of her suddenly shimmering on the edge of exuberance from the sheer, wild happiness of holding this man.
Feeling his heartbeat against her skin. Breathing in the scent of him, the familiar mixture that tantalized her senses…nestling into his embrace with the exquisite sensation of coming home…feeling her heart swell with the crazy, soaring certainty that she belonged with him, now and forever, wanting him, loving him—
Lucy opened her eyes.
This was dangerous. This couldn’t really be happening.
She couldn’t be falling in love.